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Oh, why not. Let’s tour.

| September 27, 2010

Things haven’t been going well for M.I.A. lately. And the late announcement for this week’s shows only fuels speculation that her situation is in flux. Of course, nothing can be discounted when you have a toddler.

Baby or no, Maya Arulpragasam’s largest contingent of fans — music critics — has begun to turn on her. An unflattering — and factully dubiousNew York Times Magazine spread was followed by Pitchfork hanging a lousy 4.4 rating on her new album Maya‘s door. Couple that with the defeat of her father’s Tamil Tigers in the Sri Lankan civil war and it’s been a rough year. Maya (Island) should have been the third-consecutive ground-shaking album of her young career, but perhaps it caught the bug that has afflicted everyone on that Grammy stage when she appeared onstage despite bearing a full-term pregnancy: Kanye suffered the Taylor Swift indignity; Lil Wayne bombed with an ill-conceived rock outing; T.I.’s back in the clink, and Jay-Z’s been trumped by a couple kids from Wales.

Part of what hampers the album (not great or awful, merely O.K.) is its obsession with her public image. “I fight the ones that fight me,” she warns; later, “I push my luck today/I throw this shit in your face when I see ya/Cuz I got something to say,” “You want me to be somebody who I’m really not,” etc., etc. The discordant music backs up this volatility, marking it as an album impressive in its passion, if shallow and erratic. Early on, she parlays writing sessions for Christina Aguilera’s new album into generic club numbers “XXXO” and “Teqkilla.” Then it crumbles into a smoldering pile of distorted guitars and pounding, broken-speaker production, itself possibly a testosterone-spiked swipe at writers who credit the men in her life more than her. Actually, it makes sense that she’d spend so much time addressing her critics, because no one else is listening. (Wednesday and Thursday@Vic Theatre with Rye Rye.)

Critical shorthand like “disco punk” has also done a disservice to a number of bands, threatening to obscure brilliant new albums from Foals and !!!. The latter’s Strange Weather, Isn’t It? (Warp) is like a debutante’s ball — albeit for a sassy, semi-political Brooklyinte deb — for a fully fledged modern R&B outfit. !!! have always treaded in heavily syncopated, guitar-based funk, which, for a mostly white band, has a habit of veering into parody. But Strange Weather breaks from precedent and simultaneously shortens !!!’s lengthy jams into pop nuggets while leaving doors open for live explortions. (Wednesday@Bottom Lounge with Fol Chen.)

Everything’s on fire: Arcade Fire, The Theater Fire, Amusement Parks On Fire. None of those bands attempts the sort of panic of being trapped in an inferno — a duty perhaps best reserved for hardcore punk. In the case of Amusement Parks, the root phonic “muse” holds the most meaning, as for nearly six years frontman Michael Feerick has been observing and composing as if from a studied distance. While some critics have compared their first two “albums” (the first was really a demo) as Foo Fighters couched in Ride sonics, this fall’s Road Eyes (Filter) recalls turn-of-millennia also-rans Elliott almost exactly, rebuilding 2000’s False Cathedrals as if by memory. It means pillow-soft vocals softening layer upon layer of velvety guitars, akin to watching a lightning battle in far-off storm clouds. (Wednesday@Empty Bottle with The Boxer Rebellion.)

— Steve Forstneger

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Category: Featured, Stage Buzz, Weekly

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